The latest research shows sales of weight control foods having risen by a conservative 10% to £1.6 billion between 2007 and 2012, with the market at a standstill in 2012. In addition, the number of consumers shopping for light or diet food and drink products has gradually fallen. Around one in five (19%) of Brits use diet food and drinks, with the number of users having dropped from 21% in 2008. Meanwhile, just 5% of Brits use diet products, such as appetite controllers and meal replacements.
According to Mintel, the top five ways Brits choose to manage weight are exercising more (60%); eating small portions (55%); cutting back on fatty foods (53%); cutting back on sugary foods and drink (54%); and cutting back on desserts (46%). Meanwhile, just three in ten (30%) Brits opt for more diet foods to try to lose weight.
Yet, the dip in sales growth for diet products is not for lack of effort in trying to lose weight. On the contrary, just over half (52%) of Brits have tried to lose weight in the past year (42% of men versus 63% of women).
Then why the disparity between the desire for weight loss and sales of products to support this effort? Emma Clifford, senior food analyst at Mintel, suggested that, “The turbulent economic landscape, squeezed disposable incomes and low consumer confidence have stifled growth in the market, as financially straightened Britons turned to cheaper methods of weight management, such as eating smaller portions and cutting back on certain types of food.”
She added, “Although the overriding perception that ‘light’ products are overpriced is undoubtedly limiting their appeal, consumers’ skepticism over their healthiness is also a major barrier. In order to win consumers’ trust and compete with naturally low-calorie foods it is vital that manufacturers offer consumers greater transparency in terms of their ingredients and what constitutes them being ‘diet.’”
When asked about light and low-fat foods, the overriding perception held by three quarters of the population (76%) is that diet products are overpriced. Skepticism over the health credentials of foods labeled as diet, low fat or low calorie is also an issue for shoppers. While seven in ten (71%) feel it is difficult to know how healthy these products genuinely are, half (51%) of Britons actively distrust them. As a result, almost half (48%) of adults report preferring products that are naturally lower in calories compared to reduced calorie alternatives.
While certain diet mainstays took significant hits in 2012, such as weight control yogurt slipping to an estimated £334 million, and chilled and frozen ready meals segments forecast to decline by 17% and 14% year on year respectively, not all hope is lost. Within the market, biscuits (which include cereal bars) account for the largest share of the identified diet and weight control food sales, making up 31p in every £1 spent. The biscuits and cereal bars segment is expected to grow by a notable 9% in 2013.